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Former insurance executive leaves retirement for new career

DOVER

Val Harwell could have enjoyed a cushy retirement after leaving her high-powered job at Wachovia Insurance Services, but a call from a friend two years ago lured back into the workforce.

"I had the job of my dreams offered to me and felt I had a lot left to do and to give," said Harwell, 51, who lives in Dover not far from her childhood home.

Two months later, Harwell was back holding the reigns, this time as CEO of the Omnia Group, a 20-employee Tampa firm that helps companies screen job applicants.

Omnia tests applicants to discern whether they're a good fit for a position and a company's culture. The firm also helps HR executives assess their current employees to learn whether they're right for new positions.

"It all boils down to relationships and how you communicate with one another. The more you understand an individual, the more successful you will be at getting that person to perform at a high level," said Harwell.

Harwell's personality steered her toward leadership early on. She admits to a dysfunctional upbringing with seven brothers in Riverview in the 1960s and '70s at a time when country roads and farms, not subdivisions, defined the East Hillsborough.

That period saw Harwell cast into the role of parent. She called the experience a mixed blessing: It produced bittersweet memories but molded her as a future leader.

Harwell started her career at Davis Brothers Insurance (later Davis Baldwin), working at her father's insurance office and attending college at night. She was chief executive of Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) Insurance Services by the time she left the business at 46. A few years later she was back at work. In June, she was nominated as one of three finalists for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce 2012 Outstanding Leader of the Year award. She was nominated last year, as well. Olin Mott, of Olin Mott Tire Stores, won last year.

Recently, we posed a few questions to learn more about Harwell.

Name a job other than your own you would like to try?

Motivational speaking because I love to encourage people and motivate them and have fun with them.

Name something on your bucket list?

Skydiving. I just think it would be totally cool. I think the rush of being able to fly would be so cool.

Name your favorite Plant City spot?

I would say I have two favorites. It would be a toss up between Outback Steakhouse and Fred's Southern Kitchen. I'm a picky eater and I love several things on their (Fred's) buffet, plus I love the whole hometown feel of it. I just seems so down home. And Outback, I begged them to come to Plant City and they finally built that Outback.

Name someone you would like to have dinner with?

Jim Collins. I met him three weeks ago. He wrote the (business) books Built to Last and Good to Great. I like the way he thinks.

Do you have any words to live by?

You stand for what you tolerate. If you don't say something about it, if you don't address it, you're saying it's okay. You tolerate it. But if you don't want to tolerate it, then speak up.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2454.

DOVER

Val Harwell could have enjoyed a cushy retirement after leaving her high-powered job at Wachovia Insurance Services, but a call from a friend two years ago lured back into the workforce.

"I had the job of my dreams offered to me and felt I had a lot left to do and to give," said Harwell, 51, who lives in Dover not far from her childhood home.

Two months later, Harwell was back holding the reigns, this time as CEO of the Omnia Group, a 20-employee Tampa firm that helps companies screen job applicants.

Omnia tests applicants to discern whether they're a good fit for a position and a company's culture. The firm also helps HR executives assess their current employees to learn whether they're right for new positions.

"It all boils down to relationships and how you communicate with one another. The more you understand an individual, the more successful you will be at getting that person to perform at a high level," said Harwell.

Harwell's personality steered her toward leadership early on. She admits to a dysfunctional upbringing with seven brothers in Riverview in the 1960s and '70s at a time when country roads and farms, not subdivisions, defined the East Hillsborough.

That period saw Harwell cast into the role of parent. She called the experience a mixed blessing: It produced bittersweet memories but molded her as a future leader.

Harwell started her career at Davis Brothers Insurance (later Davis Baldwin), working at her father's insurance office and attending college at night. She was chief executive of Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) Insurance Services by the time she left the business at 46. A few years later she was back at work. In June, she was nominated as one of three finalists for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce 2012 Outstanding Leader of the Year award. She was nominated last year, as well. Olin Mott, of Olin Mott Tire Stores, won last year.

Recently, we posed a few questions to learn more about Harwell.

Name a job other than your own you would like to try?

Motivational speaking because I love to encourage people and motivate them and have fun with them.

Name something on your bucket list?

Skydiving. I just think it would be totally cool. I think the rush of being able to fly would be so cool.

Name your favorite Plant City spot?

I would say I have two favorites. It would be a toss up between Outback Steakhouse and Fred's Southern Kitchen. I'm a picky eater and I love several things on their (Fred's) buffet, plus I love the whole hometown feel of it. I just seems so down home. And Outback, I begged them to come to Plant City and they finally built that Outback.

Name someone you would like to have dinner with?

Jim Collins. I met him three weeks ago. He wrote the (business) books Built to Last and Good to Great. I like the way he thinks.

Do you have any words to live by?

You stand for what you tolerate. If you don't say something about it, if you don't address it, you're saying it's okay. You tolerate it. But if you don't want to tolerate it, then speak up.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2454.

Former insurance executive leaves retirement for new career 08/09/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 9, 2012 4:30am]
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